Food Places Photo Essays

Chuan Ji Bakery: The 94-year battle to keep the Hainanese tradition alive

by Ngee Ann Polytechnic - Alyssa and Madhulisha

Chuan Ji Bakery started out as a home business and has now found its home at Macpherson Mall selling traditional Hainanese delicacies. Find out how its owner, Mr Chong Suan, upholds his grandmother’s legacy and keeps the Hainanese heritage alive and relevant!

Chuan Ji Bakery

Store’s achievements and memorable photos, 2021 (Source: Madhulisha)

Chuan Ji Bakery

Key ingredients used to make the Hainanese mooncake, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)

Owner, Mr Chong Suan and his mother started Chuan Ji as a home business in 2013 before opening a physical store at Macpherson Mall in 2017. To support his mother in managing the business, Mr Chong made the decision to leave his day job as an engineer. The 94-year-old recipe Chuan Ji uses for its Su Yan Bing, (known as the Hainanese mooncakes) belongs to Mdm Nam Tong Lee.. It was no surprise that Chuan Ji’s pastries were well received by locals who missed this taste of nostalgia, especially the Hainanese community. The popularity of Chuan Ji’s mooncakes extends beyond Singapore. During the mooncake festival, Mr Chong receives orders from countries such as Taiwan and Malaysia. This made Mr Chong realise the importance of this business in keeping the Hainanese heritage and culture alive and prevent it from vanishing in Singapore.

“I hope that many would learn to appreciate Mdm Nam Tong Lee’s efforts as the only individual who fought to keep the Su Yan Bing recipe alive.”

- Mr Chong

Baking the Hainanese pastries in the oven, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)
Baking the Hainanese pastries in the oven, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)
Final product when the <em>Su Yan Bing</em> is brought out of the oven, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)
Final product when the Su Yan Bing is brought out of the oven, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)

The Hainanese mooncake appears to be rather small, and it is hard to believe that a total of 13 ingredients goes into it! The preparation process of making the mooncake, such as frying the shallots and grinding the kumquat peels, was described as tedious and extensive. A lot of time and effort goes into baking the Hainanese mooncakes!

Mr Chong describes Chuan Ji’s Hainanese mooncake as an “acquired taste”. The mooncakes allow us first to taste a hint of sweetness from the kumquat peels, followed by a tinge of saltiness from the fried shallots, and ends off with a peppery aftertaste. Because of its unique taste, most people would find themselves going back for a second piece to grasp the mix flavours they experienced. While these mooncakes are known to be best paired with coffee, Mr Chong mentioned that it goes well with red wine too – fancy!

Chuan Ji Bakery

Final product, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)

When Mr Chong and his mother started Chuan Ji Bakery during the Mid-Autumn festival in 2017, they only had one item on their menu – the Su Yan Bing, Hainanese mooncake. To reach out to more customers, Chuan Ji is now a bakery and café where customers could come to have tea or a meal as well. Over time, more items were added to their menu such as the pork chop and beef stew, made from traditional Hainanese recipes by Mr Chong’s mother. Additionally, to cater to the health-conscious individuals, Mr Chong uses 100% peanut oil to replace pork lard in the mooncakes today. He also added more kumquat peels to increase its fragrance and has successfully tweaked the original recipe to suit the taste buds of locals.

Chuan Ji Bakery

Chuan Ji’s traditional Hainanese chicken chop and pork chop, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)

Mr Chong also shared his hopes for the future – to move to a more accessible location, expand his business locally, and bring their pastries beyond the shores of Singapore. It is his desire for Singaporeans to appreciate the rich Hainanese heritage and for Chuan Ji’s pastries to become a “must-buy” whenever tourists visit Singapore.

Chuan Ji Bakery

Entrance of Chuan Ji Bakery, 2021 (Source: Alyssa)

Ngee Ann Polytechnic - Alyssa and Madhulisha

We are students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic pursuing a diploma in Arts Business Management. As youths living in Singapore, we realised that many of our traditions are slowly vanishing and we felt that we had to make a change in order to continue staying true to our traditional roots. Hence, together with the National Heritage Board, we hope to explore the hidden gems of Singapore filled with rich culture and help tell their stories, enlightening Singaporeans on our heritage and tradition.

Art Business Management, Ngee Ann Polytechnic aims to cultivate an appreciation for various creative art forms in people. Equipped with business and management skills, they hope to manage, market and finance arts and heritage organisations.

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